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Muslims Speaking Out on Talk Radio

They're getting training on how to respond when callers label their faith violent, oppressive.

May 25, 2003|William Lobdell | Times Staff Writer

Tired of hearing their religion bashed on talk radio, about 30 Muslims listened to insider secrets Saturday on how "Rehan from Rancho Palos Verdes" or "Maryam from Diamond Bar" can get a word in edgewise on the air.

"If you're calm, you'll win," said Leslie Marshall, a television- and talk-radio host, during a 2 1/2-hour training session at the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Southern California headquarters in Anaheim.

"If you're married, you know what I'm talking about."

Most of the participants were longtime listeners of talk radio, but had never made a call. Instead, the Muslims said, they usually sit in their cars, seething as talk-show hosts generalize about how their faith is violent, hateful, backward and oppressive.

"Because we get so angry, we lose our point, we lose our focus and we don't come off as very nice," said Maher Alghorani, a board member on the council that serves Southern California's Muslim population, estimated between 155,000 and 600,000.

"That's why there's a need for this kind of training."

Marshall, a Pasadena resident who has worked for a number of major-market television and radio stations and now freelances for MSNBC, said a double standard exists when abortion clinic bombers aren't labeled as Christian fundamentalists, extremists or terrorists, and suicide bombers in the Middle East always are identified as Islamic.

"The perception is Islam equals terrorism, and that hasn't gone away," said Marshall, who is married to an American Muslim physician. And part of changing the perception is getting more peace-loving Muslim voices on talk radio.

For those wanting to argue on-air with radio personalities, Marshall had what she called some "hard truths."

For instance, if you have a heavy accent, you probably won't get on the air. "It's not prejudice," but it's just difficult for listeners to understand you, Marshall said.

Also, she said, it's important for U.S. Muslims to tell the audience that they are Americans first, dispelling any uncertainty about their loyalties. And Muslims need to admit that violence and oppression do happen under the banner of Islam, and condemn them. "You shouldn't go on the radio and deny the truth," Marshall said.

Finally, complaint letters tend to bolster a talk-show host's career -- so why bother?

Marshall said these insights are designed so Muslims can "see the wizard behind the curtain. And in turn that will let the wizard see the audience."

Marshall also gave practical tips: When calling in, act like you're a guest in someone's home, flatter the host and, as your anger rises, "remember, it's just a radio show."

"We're too defensive," said Rehan Jafri, a physician from Rancho Palos Verdes, who has listened with frustration in his car as his fellow Muslims get steamrolled by talk-radio hosts.

"I've learned today that we need to be calm, have a sense of humor and keep focused."

Marshall said the talk-radio attacks on Islam and Muslims will continue because it's one of the few topics -- along with gun control and abortion -- that instantly light up the phones.

"They do it for attention," she said, "like a kid kicking and screaming on the floor at Target."

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